International Networking Week: Follow-up tips from various international BNI leaders
Submitted by Charlie Lawson
National Director BNI UK & Ireland
Let me tell you a story about one of the first networking events I ever went to. It was a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Greenwich in South East London, and I remember that day because it was absolutely pouring with rain.
I thought the event had been a success. I’d met some interesting people, and collected a bunch of business cards. Before going back to the office, I thought I’d just sit down in the car, go through the cards, and work out how best to follow up with each one.
As I left the event, I stepped into the rain. Not having an umbrella with me, I had to run as fast as I could to my car. Despite only being in the rain for less than a minute, I was soaked through by the time I opened my car door, such that temporarily, I completely forgot about the stack of business cards in my pocket, and absentmindedly, started the car and drove back to my office.
Half way back, cursing that I’d forgotten to look through the cards, I resolved that once I got there, I’d start my follow up then. I put the pile of business cards on my desk, right next to the phone, ready for action.
But… then the world took over. The phone went, emails needed dealing with, people interrupted me – and suddenly, before I knew it, it was the end of the day. What to do? I left the cards, prominently on the desk, ready to start my follow up first thing the next morning.
The next morning arrived: I looked at the pile of cards again, and thought to myself ‘I must follow up with those contacts today it’s important’. But then whatever was urgent that day took precedence, and the cards didn’t get looked at.
A day or two later, I started to feel a bit guilty about not calling the relevant people, so I moved the cards to the special place on my desk for important matters: the top drawer. There, forgotten about, they stayed until I cleared out my desk some months later.
So, what can we learn from this? Well, firstly I’d like to think that I’ve learned a lot about follow up since then! But here’s two quick tips to help you follow up better than I did:
1) Use a Memory Jogger
I don’t know about you, but I have a memory like a sieve. Even if you’ve got a good memory, when you go to a networking event and meet 10 people, it isn’t easy to remember 10 different pieces of follow-up action. There’s a very simple solution. When you are chatting to someone, as soon as you’ve agreed whatever follow-up is required, ask for their business card and make a brief note on it.
Incidentally, I always ask the person’s permission to write on their card. In some cultures, this is really important and it is a habit that I’ve got into. For most people, it is a non-issue, but for some, you can tell by the look on their face that they appreciated being asked. It’s just a small step in the relationship building process…
2) When should follow up start?
The rain that day in Greenwich didn’t help with my follow-up, but it did teach me a valuable lesson.
I always start my follow up as soon as I leave the event I’m at. This may be in my car before I drive away, or when I get back to the office before I switch my laptop on. I may even find a quiet corner of the room where the event is on.
Whichever it is, just taking a quick look through the stack of business cards with notes on makes such a difference to remembering what needs to happen.
I divide the cards into two piles: one for cards needing action, and the other for those cards that have been forced upon me at the event!
Aside from ensuring you’ve always got your umbrella with you, what do you do to make sure you complete your networking follow up?